Prime Minister Marape Aided Indonesian Fugitive Joko Tjandra

This headline is not fake news. It is the documented conclusion of the Ombudsman Commission.

The report, tabled by the Ombudsman Commission back in 2017, received some news coverage at the time. But few of the explosive details contained in it were properly excavated (download the full report here).

Internal government records published within the report reveal that top public figures disregarded the law in order to grant Indonesian criminal Joko Tjandra citizenship. Some even had the audacity to claim it was a benign act of humanitarianism, which would deliver a major financial windfall to the ‘little’ people.

The then Foreign Minister Ano Pala claimed giving citizenship to the Indonesian criminal would bring in K5 billion in direct investment. Just don’t ask where it came from.

But this wasnt just about money, Pala admitted. It was about upholding fundamental human rights. The Foreign Minister claimed: ‘I thought great injustice was done to Mr Joko Tjandra in his own country. I made the tough decision to demonstrate that we as a country can also save a person who has not been treated well in his own country’.

Image: Joko Tjandra’s Interpol notice

It is troubling to think that seeing a kleptocrat in neighbouring Indonesia face prison, was heart wrenching for certain political leaders in PNG.

The US proclaims ‘give us your huddled masses’, in PNG it is ‘give us your convicted criminals’.

One of those public figures who helped Tjandra evade Indonesian authorities and live the life of luxury with his supremely wealthy family in PNG, is Prime Minister James Marape. He was far from alone.

But there were people of integrity too, who stood up for the integrity of the law and the people. The late Dr Kalinoe is one such man of substance who stood up in his capacity as Justice Secretary.

Image result for "Lawrence Kalinoe"

Image: Academic and civil servant Dr Kalinoe fearlessly called out corruption during his distinguished career.

Kerenga Kua and Gary Juffa are two political figures who to their credit also called foul. But they were outnumbered and out gunned by the bad guys in this instance.

Those Who Opposed Indonesian Criminal Joko Tjandra  Those Who Gave Support to Indonesian Criminal Joko Tjandra
Dr Lawrence Kalinoe Hon Ano Pala
Manasupe Zurenuoc, OBE Hon James Marape
Hon Kerenga Kua, MP Hon Patrick Pruaitch
Constable Davis A. Evari Hon John Pundari
Acting Chief Sergeant Kasa Wumber  Hon Matthew Poia
R. Nenta, OBE, QPM (NIO)  Mataio Rabura
 Robert Akunaii  Sir Nagora Y. Bogan
Hon Gary Juffa  Anton Benjamin
Rimbink Pato Donald Foo

Since then Tjandra, who is now known by the alias Joe Chan, has become a household name in PNG for all the wrong reasons.

In his native Indonesia it was Tjandra’s involvement in a A$120 million corruption scandal involving Bali Bank, which brought him public notoriety back in 1999. He was later convicted by the Supreme Court of Indonesia in June 2009 for corruption and sentenced to two years prison. Tjandra was also ordered to repay the $57m he personally made from the crooked deal.

A day before the Supreme Court sentence was handed down, Tjandra made a run for it. Tjandra turned to PNG where his brother Sir Soekandra Tjandra, KBE and Ms Eleana Tjandranegara, were naturalised citizens. According to the Ombudsman Commission ‘he [Tjandra] was engaged as Principal Business Consultant by his sister Madam Eleana Tjandranegara, to serve in her Group of Companies’.

This group was at the centre of the Waigani tower scandal, which almost cost taxypayers K10 billion, and the Central Province rice monopoly scandal, that was evaded following mass public outcry.

Joko Tjandra for a period effortlessly evaded justice in his native Indonesia. Tjandra was able to gain in rapid succession residency, citizenship and a PNG passport. This allowed the convicted criminal to island hop across Asia in private jets.

While some individuals of integrity in government made valiant attempts to stop this corrupt Indonesian businessman from rorting PNG’s laws, ultimately their efforts were thwarted by a Ministerial committee which included James Marape, Patrick Pruaitch and John Pundari.

Strap in as PNGi goes through this incredible plot where some of our most senior states people not only let the fox into the hen house, but roll out the red carpet too.

Corrupt Tjandra Applies for Citizenship

A year after after Tjandra’s June 2009 conviction, Interpol Indonesia circulated a Red Notice on the wanted fugitive, in an effort to extradite Tjandra back to Indonesia for his prison term.

This Interpol Red Notice proved no barrier to finding safe haven in PNG.

Tjandra entered PNG initially on a short term entry permit. His application for Permanent Residency was submitted on 25 August 2011, and approved that same day by the Foreign Affairs Minister Ano Pala. How about that for service!

Tjandra was exempted by the Minister on dubious grounds from provisions in the Migration Regulation (Chapter 16).

When brought before the Ombudsman Commission Ano Pala claimed of this decision: ‘I cannot remember issuing any instruction to the officers of PNG ICSA [Papua New Guinea Immigration & Citizenship Service Authority], because I don‘t know whether it was within my powers to issue the PR [Permanent Residency] Permit. I therefore cannot confirm or deny issuing any instruction to the officers to issue PR Permit to Mr Joko Tjandra’.

No this is not a comedy sketch, it is what the Minister actually told the Ombudsman Commission. Pala, it appears, has a mysterious medical condition where his memory of past actions depends on whether they were lawful or not.

Seemingly impressed by the ease at which he obtained residency, on 11 October 2011 Tjandra lodged an application for Citizenship by Naturalisation to the Papua New Guinea Immigration and Citizenship Authority.

The Chief Migration Officer during this period was Joseph Nobetau. He solicited advice from law enforcement on Tjandra’s application. Advice came back. It was not good. Joko Tjadra, he was told, is a wanted criminal.

Image: Memo from Constable Davis A. Evari of RPNGC Interpol Konedobu

Similar advice was provided by Acting Chief Sergeant Kasa Wumber, at the National Intelligence Organisation.

Dr Kalinoe's Quixotic Stand

On 23 April 2012 the Citizenship Advisory Committee met to consider Tjandra’s application. The committee included:

  • Hon Matthew Poia as the Chairman,
  • Dr Lawrence Kalinoe, Secretary for Department of Justice & Attorney General as a Permanent Member; and
  • Mr Mataio Rabura, Acting Chief Migration Officer as a Permanent Member.

According to meeting notes, Poia voted to approve Tjandra’s application:

The Chairman, Hon Matthew Poia recommended him for citizenship based on his enthusiasm in bringing tangible development to the country. From the government perspective his investment plans would definitely bring along enormous development to Central Province.

The Ombudsman Commission has produced evidence published elsewhere (see Minister and Secretary Misled Government over K10 Billion Tower Deal), which puts Mr Tjandra’s development record in serious question.

Acting Chief Migration Officer Mataio Rabura deferred his decision. Rabura argued the allegations made against Tjandra in Indonesia would have to be cleared first, before his approval would be granted.

The premise of Rabura’s position was notably flawed. These were not allegations. Tjandra’s crime was fact, proven beyond a reasonable doubt in the Supreme Court of Indonesia.

The only member of the Committee who proved his worth to the citizens of Papua New Guinea was the late Dr Lawrence Kalinoe. He voted to reject the application:

Dr Kalinoe rejected this application based on his failure to meet the constitutional requirements set out in Section 67 Subsection 2 (a), (b),(c),(d) and( f). He affirmed that he failed 5/7 compulsory requirements. Official evidence publicly available on his adverse characters. NIO recommended have to be respected, he is a global business man and does not intend to reside permanently in PNG.

This speaks to the integrity of the Dr Kalino. His diligent work in the service of good governance has featured before in PNGi, when Dr Kalinoe bravely exposed the crooked dealings of current Treasurer, Ling-Stuckey (see New Treasurer a Plague on Development and Democracy Top Civil Servant Claims).

Contrast Dr Kalinoe with Mr Rabura.

On 25 April 2012, two days later, Rabura changed his decision. He opted to approve Tjandra’s application for citizenship.

This is what Rabura wrote to the Chair of the Citizenship Advisory Committee:

Having the privilege of seeing the letter and comments by Ambassador Ilau, I am convinced that Mr Joko Tjandra is eligible for Citizenship. Ambassador Ilau says the allegations [in Indonesia] are political rather than criminal. As stated during the CAC [Citizenship Advisory Committee] meeting, why should PNG risk billions of dollars of investment because of an alleged crime, supposedly not recognized by the Singapore Government thereby permitting him to reside there for four years? I believe we would be foolish not to welcome such large investment by Mr Tjandra.

What is this formidable document written by Commodore (Retd) Peter Ilau, DMS CBE Ambassador to Indonesia, which would cause Rabura to ignore the Indonesian Supreme Court? Saying it was written on the back of envelope may be too kind, even by Commodore Ilau’s own estimation. Penned on 9 April 2012 Ilau informed PNG’s Acting Foreign Secretary:

The Republic of Indonesia (RI) became fully-fledged Democratic Nation in 2004. The [Tjandra 1999] case under the new system was reopened in 2009 as a result of concerns raised by the political community then. This in my brief view may be part and partial of the current whole of government anti-corruption drive in Republic of Indonesia to address systematic corruption and eradicate it from its public systems and processes. My scanty conclusion of this matter is that it is still very much delicate internal political controversy that needs to be reviewed and solved properly, remembering also as their National Elections draws near towards 2014.

Yes you read right, Ilau’s describes his own opinion as ‘scanty’. Presumably scanty falls well below the factual rigour of a decision reached by the Supreme Court of Indonesia following a criminal trial. Yet for PNG’s Acting Chief Migration Officer this ‘scanty conclusion’ was a decisive exoneration of Joko Tjandra, that justified his decision to support the latter’s application for citizenship.

This is the Ombudsman Commission’s response to Rabura’s actions:

CMO Mr Rabura however disregarded the laws and had instead used the letter of reference from Commodore (Retd) Peter Ilau, Ambassador to Indonesia which did not contain any reliable or credible information to support Mr Joko Tjandra’s application for Citizenship.

But dear citizens it doesnt end here!

The Chair of the Citizenship Advisory Committee then wrote to the Foreign Minister Ano Pala. It is a letter that deserves a literary award for bending the facts. Hon Matthew Poia  informed Pala:

I personally recommended for him for citizenship despite the adverse official character records. The reason being that unlike most foreigners, applying for citizenship, who come here to make money, this man has already made his money and he is bringing it into the country to help develop the country and improve its economy … Mr Rabura however, recommended deferring the application pending an official letter from Indonesia clearing his name on the allegations against him. I am satisfied beyond all reasonable doubt that the allegations leveled [sic] against Mr Joko Sergiarto has been of Political nature rather than criminal as referred to in the attached report from Commodore Peter Ilau, our Ambassador to Indonesia.

Poia ends the letter noting to his Minister: ‘It is your discretion to make the final decision on this particular application after you consider all the information presented to the committee’.

Pala Reaches his Decision

The Supreme Court of Indonesia, and Indonesia’s anti-corruption community have little nice to say about Joko Tjandra. It appears some high profile Papua New Guineans, on the other hand, do. In support of his application for citizenship, Tjandra attached outstanding character references provided by Sir Nagora Y. Bogan, KBE, former PNG Ambassador to the United States and Mr Anton Benjamin, former Acting Secretary for Department of Agriculture.

Bogan wrote in 2011:

I have had known Joko Tjandra since 1974, when he first came and worked in Lae [the Ombudsman Commission notes there is no entry permit for Tjandra prior to 2009]. Since he has maintained close affinity with Papua New Guinea and what started of a business alliance has matured into close friendship. Throughout those years, I have got to respect and have high regard for his acumen and professionalism as one of the most prolific and successful business men. He has a great heart and has contributed to many humanitarian projects in many parts of Asia including many developing countries.

Not to be outdone in superlatives, Benjamin wrote of Tjandra:

I understand that Mr Joko Soegiarto Tjandra is applying for PNG Citizenship and it is my pleasure to confirm Mr Tjandra‘s excellent character to support his application. I confirm that I have known Mr Tjandra for more than five years as a family friend and have a professional relationship throughout mutual interest in rural development and agriculture. At all times I have found him to be of excellent character, dependable, reliable and hardworking, conscientious, honest and peace loving. Mr Tjandra is an extremely successful businessman and has a diverse range of business portfolios. With these credentials and experience, I am confident that he will no doubt contribute immensely to economic growth and rural development in PNG.

The Ombudsman Commission dryly notes: ‘These character references contradict the character and security reports provided by the NCRO/Interpol and NIO’.

Despite the evidence provided by the security services, Minister Pala granted Tjandra’s application for citizenship on, wait for it, humanitarian grounds:

I was satisfied that all the requirements were met and that all processes were completed. I considered the application on humanitarian grounds. I thought great injustice was done to Mr Joko Tjandra in his own country. I made the tough decision to demonstrate that we as a country can also save a person who has not been treated well in his own country.

Minister Ano Pala also claimed Tjandra was about to invest K5 billion in PNG:

He (Joko Tjandra) had other commercial interests which were in the interest of the public. Mr Joko Tjandra was negotiating the Mekeo Rice Project with the then Minister for Agriculture, Sir Puka Temu and he wanted to put in K5 billion for the Rice Project.

Give me some passports

After his application for Citizenship was approved on 29 April 2012, Joko Tjandra applied for a PNG passport on 1 May 2012. He was granted one on 4 May 2012, despite the fact his citizenship papers were not yet prepared, which are required under the Passports Act (Chapter 17) (the Act).  His application was endorsed by lawyer Donald Foo.

In what must be a land-speed record, his passport was issued just three days later despite these irregularities. The Ombudsman Commission observes: ‘It appears that the CMO Mr Rabura and Director Passport of PNG ICSA were negligent in their duty and had unlawfully issued a PNG Passport to Mr Joko Tjandra’.

Despite the red carpet treatment in PNG, there was still one obvious problem for Tjandra. An Interpol red notice was still out for ‘Joko Tjandra’.

Tjandra danced over this problem using the machinery of the PNG state to effortlessly obtain a new identity.

On 7 May 2012 a second passport application was submitted, again endorsed by Donald Foo. This time it was made under the name, Joe Chan. It included a statutory declaration and deed poll where Joko Tjandra changed his name to Joe Chan, and adopted a new date of birth!

The Ombudsman Commission notes:

Mr Joko Tjandra provided false and misleading information which was declared and signed before Mr Donald Foo, Lawyer and Commissioner for Oaths … Donald Foo’s conduct is in breach of the Oaths, Affirmations and Statutory Declarations Act (Chapter No. 317). Section 13 of the Application for a Passport has this warning that ‗Persons who, in support of an applicant for a passport, make any false statements either orally or in writing render themselves liable to a fine of K400.00 or imprisonment for six months.

As readers will now anticipate, the application was rubber stamped by Chief Migration Officer Mataio Rabura, and by 7 June 2012, Joko Tjandra DOB 27/08/1951 was now Joe Chan DOB  27/9/1963.

On 28 August 2012 the National Crime Records Office issued a Police Clearance Certificate for Joe Chan in support of his application for an APEC Business Travel Card. It allows free travel in the APEC region. They had failed to realise that Joe Chan was the assumed name for Joko Tjandra, a man facing prison in Indonesia.

James Marape & Co Comes to Tjandra's Rescue

It was not all smooth sailing for Joko Tjandra aka Joe Chan.

On 23 January 2013 Chief Secretary, the late Manasupe Zurenuoc, wrote to the Foreign Minister Rimbink Pato, informing him that Tjandra’s citizenship had been granted under questionable circumstances. He recommended cancelling the passport.

The Foreign Minister cancelled the passport immediately.  Tjandra/Chan through Henao Lawyers appealed to the Prime Minister (Peter O’Neill) for a review the Foreign Minister’s decision.

At NEC meeting No 01/2013 on 6 February 2013, the request was deliberated on. Minister for Justice and Attorney General, Kerenga Kua, supported the Foreign Minister, arguing he be empowered to seek a National Court order revoking and nullifying Tjandra’s citizenship.

The Ombudsman Commission then recounts the strange turn of events that were to follow:

On 25 September 2014, Hon Kerenga Kua, MP, during interview under Oath with the Commission stated that during the deliberations of the policy submission, the NEC had approved the recommendations as per the submission. He then briefed out the matter to Kuman Lawyers to take carriage of the matter. He further stated that when he returned to get a copy of the NEC Decision to give to Kuman Lawyers, he was surprised to note that the written decision turned out to be the opposite of what was discussed during the meeting. That is the recommendations were not approved.

It appears a potentially fraudulent set of NEC papers led to the setting up of a Ministerial Committee of Review, which would consider the circumstances under which citizenship was issued to Tjandra. The Committee featured Hon James Marape, Hon Patrick Pruaitch, and Hon John Pundari.

According to the NEC paper in question: ‘They were appointed to investigate the issue including the review of Citizenship Advisory Committee (CAC) act and report back to the Cabinet’.

According to the Ombudsman Commission James Marape and his colleagues ignored their terms of reference and instead limited their inquiry to Tjandra/Chan’s appeal against the Foreign Minister’s decision to cancel his passport. The Ombudsman Commission states: ‘The MCoR [Ministerial Committee of Review] … conducted a review into Mr Joe Chan’s appeal against the decision made by Minister for Foreign Affairs & Immigration, Hon Rimbink Pato, OBE, LLB, MP to cancel Mr Joe Chan’s passport on 23 January 2014’.

In their report, James Marape and his colleagues observe: ‘[T]he Committee has also received representatives from the Government of the Republic of Indonesia in respect to Chan’s [Tjandra] conviction in Indonesia. These are matters involving a different legal system and the issue of extradition is not a matter before the Committee, or within its mandate’.

As a result of this deeply flawed rationale the committee concluded: ‘Pursuant to its powers under Section 13(5) of the Act, the Committee hereby revokes the decision of the Minister to cancel PNG Passport B 330971 issued to Joe Chan [Joko Tjandra] as contained in the Notice of Cancellation dated 23 January 2013’.

In other words Joko Tjandra/Joe Chan is back in business. Any chance that he would be returned to Indonesia to face justice, has been destroyed by the stroke of a pen held by current Prime Minister James Marape.

Now Joe Chan/Joko Tjandra lives the life of luxury, running his family businesses in PNG, which have been implicated in a range of corruption scandals. He jet sets throughout Asia on private aircraft.

Ordinarily PNGi ends a story with some steer on how wrongs could potentially be righted. Given the PM’s fingerprints are on this one, it would be futile to say a thing. No one in power will listen.